Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Mentor. The Father I never Had.

On Tuesday, September 17 I attended the Tenth Annual My Hero Awards Luncheon, hosted by the Lawyers Lend A Hand to Youth Program. This is a group of lawyers from Chicago who have raised more than $1.4 million since 1994 to fund the general operations of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region. Read more about this event.

During the late 1990s the Lend A Hand Program was part of the Chicago Bar Foundation and held an annual event in November which attracted more than 1500 lawyers, friends and families. Since 2002 a My Hero Awards Lunch in the spring or fall has attracted more than 200 participants to give recognition to lawyers, law firms, business and judges who are involved with volunteer based tutoring and/or mentoring programs in the Chicago region.

During this week's event Doug Wambach, a shareholder at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. received one "Making a Difference Award" and Richard Gleason, managing partner of O'Mara, Gleason & O'Callaghan, LLC, received a second award.

Wambach has been involved in many roles supporting Boys Hope Girls Hope for more than a decade. He was nominated by a youth he has mentored for the past several years. In the nomination letter, the youth wrote "I haven't been writing about a mentor; I'm writing about a father I never had." In his acceptance comments, Wambach said "He's the one who made a difference in my life, and in my family's life."

Gleason has been involved with the mentoring program at the Logan Square Boys & Girls Club in Chicago since 2006. The boy he has mentored for the past 6 years is now working at the club and gave the nomination speech. He said "If it wasn't for Rich, I don't know where I'd be now."

Over my 35 years of leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program I've heard comments like this from many alumni and volunteers of the programs I've led, and of other programs I've connected with. This has led me to three levels of understanding, which are reflected in the graphic below, and in this Logic Model pdf essay.

First, the testimony of young people and volunteers convinces me that connecting youth with volunteers from the business community, and keeping them connected for multiple years, is something we should try to do.

Second, to connect youth living in high poverty neighborhoods with volunteers who don't live in the neighborhood, but model many types of work and career experiences that youth might aspire to, structured, well-organized, and well funded programs like Boys Hope Girls Hope and the Logan Square Boys & Girls are needed.

Third, since there are more than 125,000 high poverty youth living in Chicago, and many more in the suburbs, we need hundreds of well organized programs, not just the few that are now in existence. For such programs to be in place and well organized, we need organizations like the Lawyers Lend A Hand to be raising millions of dollars from their industry and spreading this money each year to on-going programs throughout the city and suburbs.

If every industry, fraternal and alumni organization forms a Lend A Hand type program, the result would be multiple sources of on-going funding, and a diversity of volunteers, supporting tutor/mentor programs in every high poverty zip code, thus enabling each program to have a higher percent of the total dollars each needs to operate, as well as a diversity of volunteer talent helping the program innovate ways to constantly improve their impact on the lives of kids....and volunteers.

I've been broadcasting this idea for nearly 20 years, yet there are few leaders who have embraced the idea to the point that they should be receiving awards for how well they support "birth to work" mentoring programs in places where they do business or where employees and customers live. Why is this?

1) Maybe I'm the wrong messenger. I'm not from a wealthy family. I'm not the CEO of a big company. I'm not politically connected. I'm not of a minority racial background.

2) The non profits who would benefit most from increased resources, are not embracing the strategy. There's too much fear of losing volunteers or donors by talking about the need for tutor/mentor programs all over the city, rather than just their own program. The competitive nature of philanthropy reinforces this.

3) Business leaders who lead multiple store corporations via central office strategies don't apply the same thinking to what they do to support multiple non profits in all neighborhoods where they are needed. It's easy to adopt one or two high profile programs, or run a small in-house volunteer program. It's harder to take on a role intended to build an distribution of these programs, and a supply system to support them. Read more about how businesses might help programs grow.

4) I've never been able to keep consistent funding or build a large enough funding base to spread these ideas consistently, draw people together for conferences, or teach leaders to adopt and use the ideas.

I've written more than 1000 articles on this blog since 2005, all intended to build consistent support for constantly improving tutor/mentor programs in high poverty neighborhoods. In addition, I've created a variety of essays to illustrate ideas that leaders might adopt in support of multiple tutor/mentor programs. Finally, I've created a web library with more than 2000 links to ideas of other people around the world which can be applied to building and sustaining individual programs as well as networks of programs.

This is all part of a 4 part strategy, illustrated in this strategy pdf and this concept map. Since 2011 I've not had a non profit organizational structure to support this strategy, and I'm reaching out to find volunteers and partners to re-build this. However, I'm more interested in finding ways to embed these ideas and strategies in many other organizations, in Chicago and around the country, so more owners carry this forward in future years, and so it's not dependent on any single organization or individual. If you're interested in this let's find a way to talk.

These ideas and web resources are free to anyone who wants to see more young adults standing up in front of crowds saying "my mentor made a difference in my life." I hope you'll spend some time getting to know them.

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